An article yesterday incorrectly reported that a White House spokesman said President Reagan plans to seek $270 million in aid for the Nicaraguan contras. The spokesman did not specify the amount the president will request Jan. 26. Although $270 million was the amount Secretary of State George P. Shultz specified last fall, the administration later postponed the request and administration officials have said several times recently that the amount Reagan will request Jan. 26 is undecided. (Published 1/19/88)

The Reagan administration and congressional Democrats agreed yesterday that Nicaragua's pledge of new concessions to comply with the Central American peace agreement could drastically alter the upcoming showdown vote in Congress over continuing military aid to the contras.

Both sides agreed that the outcome of the Feb. 3 and 4 congressional votes will be determined by the degree to which Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega implements the steps he outlined Saturday in San Jose, Costa Rica. Of particular importance, they said, will be whether Ortega's efforts result in direct talks between Ortega's Marxist Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed rebels.

Democrats -- including some who were present in San Jose at the summit of the five presidents who signed the regional peace accord Aug. 5 -- expressed confidence that the initial effect of Ortega's actions was to help their attempts to end President Reagan's controversial six-year policy of arming the contras. The forces opposed to contra aid had been hampered by Nicaragua's previous reluctance to implement the accord's call to move toward democratization.

But White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk said yesterday the president plans to ask for a $270 million aid package Jan. 26, triggering the showdown vote. Administration officials contend that Ortega merely had reiterated promises the Sandinistas had failed to keep on earlier occasions.

Some administration officials, citing the presence of congressional Democrats in San Jose, charged anew that, under the direction of House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), they improperly interfered with Reagan's ability to conduct U.S. foreign policy by advising Ortega on a strategy to thwart administration goals in the region.

A senior official argued that the group, headed by Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), had tried to tell Ortega how to defeat contra aid in Congress without fully complying with the peace plan, drafted mainly by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. The official said, "I must say that we like the Arias plan better than the Bonior plan."

Bonior, who said the other presidents, not his group, had the most influence on Ortega, said the Nicaraguan leader "went further than we had expected."

"There were differing degrees of enthusiasm among the other presidents about how much Ortega can be trusted. But it was made very clear by everyone with whom we talked that if Congress votes new contra aid, it will kill the peace process," Bonior said.

"The ball is now in two courts," Bonior continued. "It is up to Ortega to follow through and keep his promises, and if he does, it is up to the administration to withhold its contra aid request. If it doesn't, then Congress will have to decide the issue, and I believe that if the Sandinistas show good faith, Congress will vote to end the aid."

But the senior administration official, who declined to be identified, insisted yesterday that the fight was far from over. He said that failure, or even delay, in bringing Nicaragua into total compliance with the peace plan would prove the need for continued contra pressure on the Sandinistas.

Bonior, House chief deputy majority whip and a foe of contra aid, said the chief credit for persuading Ortega of the need for concessions belonged to Arias and the other presidents -- Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala, Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador and Jose Azcona of Honduras.

"The speaker asked us to go down and be available," he said. "We kept a very low profile, but we talked to all the presidents except Duarte, who was ill, and their foreign ministers and to others, including Alfredo Cesar {a major contra political leader}. We did play a small role in trying to nudge things forward, but it was mainly in terms of reinforcing the effort President Arias and the others had been making to convince Ortega that his country hadn't done enough to comply with the peace plan."

In two meetings with Ortega, the Americans made clear that the outcome of the contra-aid vote would depend on Nicaragua's ability to convince undecided members of Congress that it sincerely intends to move toward democratization and some form of accommodation with its opponents, Bonior said.

Bonior said "the most eloquent and forceful arguments" were made by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), whose foreign policy views are widely respected by House Democrats.

Bonior said that the steps subsequently announced by Ortega -- face-to-face talks with the contras on a cease-fire, a partial amnesty once the cease-fire is agreed on, immediate lifting of the state of siege and elections for seats in a Central American parliament -- "surprised us because they went further than we expected would be the case." He added, "They also surprised the other Central Americans who were very pessimistic at the outset of the San Jose talks but who ended largely feeling that Ortega's move was very helpful."

That was disputed by the senior administration official, who said the administration's initial soundings indicated "considerable skepticism" among the Central Americans. He also insisted that Ortega's concessions amounted to "less than meets the eye" because the amnesty provision contains conditions that will enable the Sandinistas to keep thousands of prisoners in jail, even if the state of siege is lifted.